The Haunted Indian Hotel That Inspired Agatha Christie’s First Novel

Hotel Savoy
Hotel SavoyED Times

“Instinct is a marvellous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.” The Hercule Poirot quote from Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair At Styles echoes in my head as I walk in through the narrow carpeted corridors of Hotel Savoy. Through an English window, I see the sun cast an eerie shadow on this magnificent Edwardian-style hotel that stands tall at the end of the Mussoorie’s famous Library Bazaar. The Gothic English architecture lends it a spooky, old world charm and the wooden floor creaks beneath my heavy boots. A cold gush of air hits my face as soon as I walk into my lovely room. The doors shut behind me. I run out to the balcony, scared.

There’s more to this splendid luxury castle-hotel than meets the eye. Its haunting charm is well justified by the many ghost stories that make the rounds in its quiet, aloof corridors. Commissioned in 1902 by Cecil D Lincoln, an Irish barrister from Lucknow, Hotel Savoy stands a class apart. In the early 20th century it hosted many dignitaries – politicians, diplomats, spiritual leaders and literary geniuses frequented Savoy for its opulence. But there’s something else that till date pokes the mind of curious travellers – a permanent guest that refuses to leave. As the popular legend goes, the hotel hosts the ghost of Lady Garnett, an English spiritualist who died on the premises under mysterious circumstances. It is said that her murder inspired Agatha Christie’s first novel ‘The Mysterious Affairs At Styles.’

It was the summer of 1911 when the 49-year-old spinster travelled to Mussorie, accompanied by Miss Eva Mountstephen, another spiritualist from Lucknow. Lady Garnett had gained the ability to communicate with the spirits through crystal gazing after her fiance died. One fine morning she was found dead in her room with the door locked from inside. Traces of prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) were found in the autopsy. At first, her death was ruled out as suicide, but then suspicion fell on Lady Mountstephen who had hurried back to Lucknow, the same morning on the pretext of ‘urgent business.’ Though she was convicted for having tampered with the deceased’s bottle of sodium bicarbonate, she was released as there was no hard evidence found. The mystery became graver when the doctor who conducted Lady Garnett’s autopsy too was found dead. It was Rudyard Kipling who sent the facts of the murder to his old friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the hopes of a resident at 221B taking over the scene. According to a report by Scroll, “The doctor was unable to contrive an Indian itinerary for his sleuth, but the facts of the case travelled to Christie, who used it to draft her first novel. Incidentally, aspects of the Savoy’s architecture might have lent themselves to Styles Court, an Essex County manor, which was the setting of Christie’s first book.”

Though sleuth Poirot solves the mystery of the protagonist’s killings in the novel, the real-life affair of Lady Garnett’s murder remains unsolved till date. She lurks through its rooms at night whispering, looking for her murderer. Many visitors have found their room doors open. Some claim to have seen her apparition walk through the corridors. Visitors who confronted her said that she checked them thoroughly before dissolving. The hotel shut down for many years until it was acquired and renovated by ITC Welcome Group Hotels in 2009.

Image Credit: Hotel Savoy

Today, the hotel still retains its Gothic old-world feel and has been refurbished luxuriously with all mod cons. A well-manicured garden gives way to a grand stairway lined with statues of ladies from the Victorian Era. It leads to a charming medieval fountain surrounded by huge rooms with the quaint, rustic warmth of traditional English design. Each of its 38 rooms and 12 suites come equipped with king size beds, curtained french style doors and windows and a private patio/balcony that gives breathtaking views of the Himalayas and the Doon valley. The legacy of Hotel Savoy comes alive in its grand dining room that remains dimly lit with chandeliers. There’s also a lovely writer’s bar that has inspired many writers who have penned down their bestsellers while drowning themselves in whisky for warmth and gazing at the stunning vistas of the snow-capped mountains. The most striking feature of the sprawling Savoy is its two castle towers that seemingly remain out of bounds.

Hotel Savoy. Image Credit: Hotel Savoy
The Writer's Bar. Image Credit: Hotel Savoy

That evening I wander through Savoy as the sky turns hues of purple and red. I ask an employee about the ghost of Lady Garnett in the hope of taking back their ghastly experiences. He gives me a tight smile and shakes his head dismissing all the stories to mere rumours. “I have been here for 5 years and have never heard or felt anything,” he says assertively. I walk back to my room – part relieved and partly disappointed. There is a cool nip in the air but a weird stillness persists. Settling into my cosy bed, I put my ear to the wall in an attempt to listen to whispers. The silence is deafening, unusually comforting enough to put me to a sound sleep until I am suddenly woken up again by a cool whiff of air. Sitting upright, I stare at my doors and windows that remain tightly bolted. Too scared to even think of the possibility of what might have happened, I snuggle back, waking up only at the crack of dawn. Stumbling out I walk to the patio trying to recall the incidents. Had the winds of Savoy been playing too many games with me or had I been visited by the ghost of Lady Garnett? That’s a mystery I choose to leave behind at the lovely Hotel Savoy.

Visit Hotel Savoy’s website here.

Feature Image Credit: ED Times

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